So, is it Pee-Can or Puh-Kahn? While we could engage in a verbose discussion as to the correct terminology, I am here to report that the question never came up from chefs competing for the second night of Competition Dining’s Final Fire. All that mattered to competing chefs John Bobby and his team from Noble’s Grill in Winston-Salem and Dean Thompson and his team from Fights Restaurant at the Renaissance Marriot Hotel in Raleigh, was that this nut, was a locally grown North Carolina product and, this night it was their secret ingredient – the catalyst around which they each needed to build three different dishes for the second evening of the Competition Dining Final Fire on November 21, 2013.
As is the case with each secret ingredient these particular pecans were North Carolina born and bred, hailing from High Rock Farms in Gibsonville, North Carolina.
Established in 1807, High Rock Farm is the largest working and producing chestnut orchard in the mid-Atlantic region with a grove of nearly 500 chestnut trees. While the farm is chestnut-centric, High Rock also produces a hearty crop of pecans each fall from some 400 pecan trees; and in the spring visitors can look to enjoy the annual blackberry harvest.
High Rock Farm was built in 1807 by Joseph McCain, Senator John McCain’s fourth great-grandfather. This federalist style home features many large rooms including eight fireplaces, antique furniture, and beautiful landscape. High Rock Farm is one of North Carolinas Historic landmarks and is listed under Preservation North Carolina.
The farm house sits off High Rock Road and was used as a stage coach stay in the 1800’s. At one time, the house was also home to a local tavern and area post office. Today the historic house is home to Richard Teague who planted his first chestnut tree in 1991, and is available for home and farm tours by appointment.
Pecans are generally harvested in October and then packaged for sale directly from the farm, but they go fast! To extend the life and flavor of the pecans High Rock Farm also produces and sells sugar toasted pecans and chocolate covered pecans as well as their chestnuts ( perfect this time of year for roasting over an open fire!), chestnut flour, dried chestnut kernels and in season fresh blackberries and raspberries and as well as their own blackberry jam. For information about ordering product or visiting the farm ( or perhaps hosting your wedding celebration there) visit http://www.high-rock-farm.org/
Richard and the sales and marketing director for High Rock Farm, Brianne McAlister , were at the Nov. 21 Final Fire dinner and literally went nuts over each and every dish. I had the pleasure to meet these two ambassadors of North Carolina Chestnuts and Pecans in Charlotte when High Rock Farms Chestnuts were a secret ingredient at one of the Fire in the City Competition Dining dinners. We had a wonderful evening rekindling our friendship at Final Fire.
While the pecans may not have been as formidable of an ingredient as the chestnuts, they did offer. their own set of challenges.
You see, the pecans at High Rock Farm are unlike most other commercially produced and packaged pecans as they are not dried after shelling. Instead, Teague vacuum seals the pecan halves fresh in 5 lb. bags and freezes then for future use and enjoyment. This process helps the nuts to retain their natural moisture and the result is a more tender sweeter product.
The challenge to chefs this night came in preserving that sweet tender taste, in toasting the nuts to the “just right” moment and in accentuating their understated flavor without masking it over with other flavor components. But such is the task for Competition Dining chefs in each and every battle and this night Chefs Bobby and Thompson, did these local pecans proud.
To paraphrase Wikipedia, pecans, like the fruit of all other members of the hickory genus, are not truly a nut, but are technically a drupe or a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk. for those who have never had the pleasure of enjoying a freshly cracked pecan, Wikipedia goes on to say that “The seeds of the pecan are edible, with a rich, buttery flavor. They can be eaten fresh or used in cooking, particularly in sweet desserts but also in some savory dishes.”
Well, whoever wrote that section for Wikipedia, has obviously never been to a Competition Dining dinner! “Some savory dishes” – ha!
Chefs John Bobby and Dean Thompson, crusted Manchester Farms Quail with pecans, made pecan sausage, pureed pecans for a savory sauce, made sweet potato and pecan grits, and, of course, used these delicious North Carolina pecans for two spectacular desserts.
More on the Battle High Rock Farms Pecan dinner to come in another blog post; but continue on and you will find that I have included one recipe from the dinner here from the Fights Restaurant offerings – Chef Anthony Zinani’s NC Sweet Potato and High Rock Farm Pecan Grits – Know that the quantities may be cut down if you are not cooking for 150 Competition Dining guests enjoy!
In the end it was chef John Bobby and his team from Noble’s Grill who won the battle and will now go on to the last evening of Final Fire for the Championship round against Chef Adam Hayes of The Red Stag Grill in Asheville NC. And what will the secret ingredient be that night of the competition?
Its all hush-hush until the evening of the dinner, but this food writer is already in the know and can’t wait to write about it all.
North Carolina Sweet Potato - High Rock Farms Pecan Grits
From the Flight’s Restaurant Kitchen and exec sous chef Anthony Zinani
6 cups roasted High Rock Farms Pecans, roughly chopped
4 cups Gilford Stone Ground Grits
15 roasted North Carolina sweet potatoes, roasted for 1 1/2 hours until tender
1 lb. mascarpone cheese
2 qts chicken stock
1 qt. heavy cream
1 Tbsp,. ground cumin
3 cups brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. powdered ginger
Bring stock to a slow rolling boil. Add grits. turn heat down to simmer and stir with a wire whisk. Pee potatoes and puree. Cook grits for one hour; add sweet potato puree, pecans, mascarpone and spices.Cook for an additional 20 minutes.
The recipe may be halved or quartered if you are cooking for less than 150 Competition Dining guests